News / Asia

Karaoke and Counseling: Japan’s Tsunami Survivors Try to Rebuild

Henry Ridgwell

It has been nearly a year since the huge tsunami hit northern Japan, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying entire settlements.  Many survivors are struggling through the winter in shelters or temporary housing.  In the town of Ofunato reconstruction efforts well underway.  But there is wide uncertainty among the survivors about the future of their hometowns

Karaoke is helping to heal the wounds of last year’s tsunami.  Traditional folk songs are favorite among the residents of Ofunato’s temporary housing, like Kazue Hashiguchi.

She says it is good fun and heals the heart.  She says gathering together in a group and singing and talking to each other is great.

This musical get-together is taking place on board a purpose-built truck currently touring Japan’s tsunami-hit coast, bringing counseling and karaoke to the bereaved communities.

Yoshinobu Konno is from the charity ‘Friends of the United Nations,’ which came up with the idea.

He says people who live in these small prefabricated houses lost their families and their homes and are often depressed.  He says they are often alone, they do not want to make contact with other people, they become introspective.  He says his group is concerned that people could die here alone in their houses.  He says his charity is intervening to try to prevent mental illnesses from taking hold.

Dozens of housing blocks have been erected in Japan in the months following the tsunami.  Visiting salesmen bring life’s essentials - and even the odd luxury like locally caught cod roe.

In a small cove below Ofunato, there is nothing left of the residents’ original homes.  Demolition teams have flattened the few structures that the tsunami left behind.

Ofunato was one of the worst hit towns when the tsunami roared ashore nearly a year ago.

Further south, a freighter still looms over Kesennuma town, carried several kilometers inland by the tsunami.

It is impossible to forget the horrors of a year ago, but the town is trying to move on.

A mini-village has sprung up to re-house businesses washed away.  Chefs and shopkeepers offer a taste of Kesennuma’s once-famed seafood.

Among them, Masayoshi Hatakeyama.  His traditional Japanese inn was entirely destroyed.  His new workplace may be cramped, but he says it is a first step on a very long road.

He says the tsunami destroyed a huge area so it will take a long time and hard work to get back to how it was before.  He says it will not be like it was before - they will have to create a new town.

Under the direction of a newly-formed Ministry of Reconstruction, this wrecked coastline is being transformed with astonishing speed.

Back in Ofunato, survivors say it will take much longer to rebuild their communities; many question whether anyone will want to live here at all.

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